Farmers 'Profoundly Disappointed'
by Matthew Weaver
The U.S. wheat industry is reacting with disappointment after President Donald Trump said that Japan, their No. 1 customer, doesn't really want to buy their grain.
According to White House transcripts, Trump made the comments Aug. 13 while speaking about energy during a campaign stop in Pennsylvania:
"Many car plants -- they're coming in from Japan. I told Prime Minister Abe -- great guy. I said, 'Listen, we have a massive deficit with Japan.' They send thousands and thousands -- millions -- of cars. We send them wheat. Wheat. (Laughter.) That's not a good deal. And they don't even want our wheat. They do it because they want us to at least feel that we're okay. You know, they do it to make us feel good."
A White House spokesman directed questions to USDA and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Requests seeking comment were not returned.
"The president was on a campaign speech and speaking, as he normally does, off the top of his head," Chandler Goule, CEO of the National Association of Wheat Growers, told the Capital Press. "What's most unfortunate, in my mind, is he was sitting here in the last couple months talking about how all our farmers in the United States are doing great, but yet, they're not and they're suffering."
Goule said Trump's comments were "very frustrating." He said the president claims to be continually supporting farmers, but started a trade war, and then directly attacks "the bread basket commodity of the United States."
"Do I want to say that it was probably speaking before you think?" Goule said. "Yes, it probably was, but you're the president of the United States and the farmers and ranchers of this country are who put you in office. To have you attack a commodity that is high-quality and in high demand ... and that truly depends on export markets is really just irresponsible."
"I disagree with the President's comments and stand by our wheat growers in Eastern Washington," Rep Cathy McMorris Rodgers said. "We value our relationship with Japan and are committed to providing the high quality wheat they need. We pride ourselves in producing the best wheat in the world and will continue to lead on cutting-edge research to help with global food security.”
In a statement, the Oregon Wheat Growers League said it was "profoundly disappointed" in Trump's comments.
"The President's dismissive statements ... demonstrated that he doesn't fully appreciate the 70 years of efforts by generations of wheat growers to build the great relationships we have with our customers in Japan," the league stated.
Relationships between Japanese millers and U.S. farmers began in 1949, when the league organized a trade delegation to investigate expanding wheat sales.
Japan is the No. 1 market for U.S. wheat, and the No. 2 market for soft white wheat grown in the Pacific Northwest, the league said. U.S. wheat has a 50% market share in Japan.
"Our customers in Japan don't buy our wheat because they are doing us a favor or to make us feel good, they buy our wheat because we have built a relationship with them, earned their trust, listened to their needs, and provided great customer service," the league stated.
"This is not a situation in which they're simply buying what can be close to $1 billion worth of wheat a year for political reasons," said Steve Mercer, vice president of communications for U.S. Wheat Associates, the overseas marketing arm for the industry. "This is a need and a desire on the part of their industry to purchase U.S. wheat."
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